Training the Next Generation of Health Workers in Washington Heights



Founded in 1952, The Community League of the Heights (CLOTH) has transformed over the last half century from a neighborhood youth program to a full-fledged community organization. Today, CLOTH provides holistic services to the Washington Heights community including youth and adult education, health and wellness, affordable housing, and business improvement.
In 2008, following a community needs assessment that found people wanted more support finding a job, CLOTH built the Technology and Workforce Center to provide the community access to technology and workforce training.
“To be effective as a community program, we realized that the technology center must be aligned to the needs of the community,” says Daniel Mercado, Director of the Technology and Workforce Center. “The needs assessment also encouraged the staff to start building strong, culturally relevant partnerships. CWE was one of those partners.”
The organization reached out to CWE and the City Council for support getting the new program off the ground, and it has since been supported by CWE’s Jobs to Build On program.



CLOTH has become the first line of employment support for many in the immigrant community of Washington Heights, due to its reputation for cultural knowledge and sensitivity. Nearly 70% of participants in the Technology Center’s workforce programs are first- or second-generation Hispanic immigrants. Approximately half have little to no work history in the United States. A third of have entered the United States as licensed professionals, but find it difficult to secure similar employment and transfer their degrees. All are able to get the help they need at CLOTH.
When a community member arrives at CLOTH’s Technology Center, the staff conducts an initial assessment to identify immediate needs beyond job training and placement. This approach allows CLOTH to provide additional benefits such as metro cards, uniforms, and pre-employment medical services.
“We start with their needs,” says Mercado. “We enroll them in the ESL program if they are in need of language skills. We enroll them in our computer skills program if that is needed. Our holistic approach can mean the difference between completing training and getting and keeping a job.”
CLOTH’s most in-demand program is the workforce basic skills and job training, which covers resume writing, job interview practice, computer skills, money and time management, and reading comprehension. This program leads to a home health aide certification, which takes three to four weeks to complete. CLOTH partners with home health agencies, like Self Help Community Services and Isabella Home Care, to certify participants and place them into jobs.
Sensitivity for the specific needs of their community members has guided which home care organizations CLOTH partners with.
“We work mostly with Latinos, so for many Spanish is their only language,” says Mercado. “We have found partnerships with Spanish-speaking home health aid agencies, which is a rarity in New York.”



Each year, CLOTH trains 60-80 new workers, and places over 40 into jobs.
One of those success stories is Kenia Leiba. She came to CLOTH looking for help getting a job that was similar to the nursing career she had in Puerto Rico.
“I learned a lot, from creating a resume to gaining knowledge about the home health aide profession,” says Leiba. “I completed the course and am now certified by the Department of Health as a home health aide. I was offered a job and am currently employed full-time.”
Leiba has since enrolled in CLOTH’s ESL course. “This is just the beginning,” she says, “I plan on continuing to study and excel.”
Mercado and CLOTH hear a lot of stories like Leiba’s.
“Many of our participants are renting apartments with three children in one room,” says Mercado. “After they have completed the course and are certified and are working, they have been able to apply for housing and move out of those cramped situations and have economic stability.”
“CLOTH’s philosophy remains: ‘Our doors are always open to neighbors in need.’”